American Dharma

Watch American Dharma

"I'd rather reign in hell than serve in heaven"
  • R
  • 2019
  • 1 hr 35 min
  • 7.0  (971)
  • 62

American Dharma is a provocative documentary film released in 2018, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Errol Morris. The film centers around Stephen K. Bannon, the controversial political strategist and former executive chairman of Breitbart News, who is perhaps best known for his role as chief strategist for President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and his brief tenure as a White House advisor. American Dharma takes an in-depth look at Bannon's philosophy, influence, and the impact he has had on American politics, while also exploring the broader themes of power, media, and the contentious political landscape of the United States.

The title "American Dharma" is a nod to Bannon's fascination with the concept of "dharma," a term borrowed from Hindu and Buddhist traditions that conveys one's duty or path in accordance with cosmic law. For Bannon, his dharma appears to be the radical transformation of the American political system, and the film delves into his contentious methods and ideology that aim to fulfill this goal. Errol Morris employs his cinematic skill to create a portrait that is as troubling as it is fascinating, inviting viewers to come to their own conclusions about the subject at the center of the feature.

The film employs Morris's distinctive style, mixing high-quality interviews with dramatic recreations and archival footage. Morris does not shy away from challenging Bannon on his perspectives, making for an engaging high-stakes dialogue that critically examines Bannon's ideas and accomplishments. The interview serves as the movie's spine, around which Morris arranges various elements to create a psychologically and visually compelling narrative.

One of the film's striking features is its use of cinematic references, particularly Bannon's own admiration for classic war movies. Scenes from films such as "Twelve O'Clock High," "The Bridge on the River Kwai," and "Chimes at Midnight" are interwoven into the documentary, reflecting how Bannon sees himself and his political battles. Bannon views these films as symbolic of broader themes of struggle, sacrifice, and leadership, which he apparently finds inspirational for his own life and career. By integrating these cinematic clips, Morris establishes a parallel between the dark romanticism of these tales and Bannon's vision for American politics.

As the focus of the movie, Bannon is portrayed in a complex light, both a creator and a product of the tumultuous political environment. Through his candid conversations with Morris, viewers are provided with insight into Bannon's motivations, beliefs, and strategic thinking. His role in shaping the populist movement in the United States, and his connection to wider populist upswings around the world, is a key area of exploration in the documentary.

The documentary also examines Bannon's journey before becoming an influential political figure. From his time in the Navy to his stint at Goldman Sachs, and then as a Hollywood producer, all the way through his involvement in right-wing media, American Dharma paints a picture of a man who has continually sought to reinvent himself and the world around him. His work with Breitbart News and later the Trump campaign cemented his reputation as a contentious media mogul and political mastermind adept at using controversy and disruption as tools for change.

Despite its focus on Bannon, American Dharma is not an isolated character study, as Morris uses the medium to reflect on the larger political climate. The film includes footage of key public figures such as Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, highlighting how Bannon's rhetoric and strategies have contrasted with or attacked their political personas and legacies. Further, the documentary scrutinizes the complex interplay between media manipulation, "fake news," and the erosion of public trust in traditional institutions.

What sets American Dharma apart is not only its willingness to tackle such a polarizing subject but also the deft hand of Morris in navigating the delicate balance between giving Bannon a platform and subjecting his worldview to rigorous scrutiny. The film does not merely provide insights into a single individual but probes deeper into America's political soul, the angst that fuels division, and the forces that seek to exploit and reshape the currents of power.

Provocative, thought-provoking, and unapologetic, American Dharma serves as a fiery crucible that attempts to distill the essence of one of the most influential and divisive political figures in recent American history. As such, it is a significant piece of documentary cinema that encapsulates a critical period in the United States, one that will be dissected and debated by audiences and critics alike for years to come.

American Dharma is a 2019 documentary with a runtime of 1 hour and 35 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.0 and a MetaScore of 62.

American Dharma
Where to Watch American Dharma
American Dharma is available to watch free on Kanopy. It's also available to stream, download and buy on demand at The Roku Channel, Apple TV, Amazon and Google Play. Some platforms allow you to rent American Dharma for a limited time or purchase the movie and download it to your device.
  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 35 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    7.0  (971)
  • Metascore